Kennett Square Borough Council opts to scuttle a resolution condemning hate speech
By Steven Hoffman
The Sept. 3 meeting of Kennett Square Borough Council was highlighted by a lengthy discussion about a resolution condemning hate speech related to the charged political rhetoric of President Donald Trump.
The resolution under consideration in Kennett Square was similar to one that the U.S. House of Representatives approved, largely along party lines, after Trump tweeted out controversial comments about four congresswomen of color in mid-July. The resolution noted that the United States has “attracted new people in search of freedom and livelihood for their families” and further stated that, “Whereas the Declaration of Independence defined America as a covenant based on equality, the unalienable Rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and government by the consent of the people…”
While the Kennett Square Borough Council members took turns making it clear that they don’t support hate speech, the resolution itself was not unanimously supported. In fact, the resolution never even made it to a formal vote.
Early in the meeting, council member Ethan Cramer made a motion, seconded by his colleague LaToya Myers, to remove the resolution from the agenda. A lengthy discussion ensued.
Cramer said that while he was aware of the national debate, and concerned by it, he did not think it was beneficial for borough council to be weighing in on something that is so clearly a federal issue. Cramer said that there are other items that aren't on the agenda that Borough Council could be dealing with.
Peter Waterkotte said that he agreed with a lot of what Cramer said, but he also felt like the resolution was a way to make it clear to residents that they lived in a town of unity and inclusion. He explained that he, too, has been troubled by some of the political rhetoric that has been labeled by many as racist.
“I have a hard time with not saying something or doing something for the 50 percent of our community that is Latino,” Waterkotte said.
Myers said that she certainly doesn’t support all the things that the president of the United States might put out, but she questioned the effectiveness of a resolution denouncing the comments. She said that she would rather have council take specific actions to fight racism in the community.
“I don't want this to be a feel-good vote for people. I want us all to be aware and thoughtful about the everyday decisions that we make as a body,” Myers said.
Council member Brenda Mercomes offered a counterpoint, saying that taking a stand against hate speech was, in fact, doing something.
“The things we've heard in the last few months are blatant and ugly,” Mercomes said. “We're taking a stand for the community, and I want to make it known that I at least tried to do something.”
Council president Doug Doerfler admitted that he was hesitant to put the resolution on the agenda in the first place because he was concerned that it would just create more divisiveness.
Ultimately, when the vote was taken on whether to remove the item from the agenda, four council members voted to do so, while two council members voted to keep it on the agenda.
Those in attendance, like borough council, seemed to be divided by the concept of the resolution.
Several residents said that they were strongly opposed to the borough council even taking up something that they considered to be a national issue and a partisan issue.
John Thomas said that Kennett Square was the only small town in Chester County that would even consider putting a resolution like this on the agenda.
Others expressed their disappointment that council wouldn’t be supporting the resolution. Jessie Cocks, a former council member who has worked for social justice and equality her entire adult life, said that everyone has work to do every day to confront issues of oppression.
“Symbolic actions are useful,” she said of the resolution.
Wayne Braffman, also a former council member, disagreed with the notion that the resolution was focused on a national issue. A local man from a family of immigrants asked for the resolution to be considered by borough council, Braffman explained.
“The audience for this resolution are the kids who are being tormented in school and being told to go back home, and the parents of those kids,” Braffman explained. “This was never about politics. This is about democracy. No matter what goes on in Washington, that kind of hate speech does not belong in Kennett Square.”
Braffman added that he hoped that the resolution could be revisited at a future meeting. He also said that the resolution could be revised so that it addressed some of the concerns that had been raised. If the resolution does eventually get approved, the plan is to share it with elected officials at the federal, state, and local level.